Monday, September 26, 2016

MacGuyver Review: The Rising (S1E1, Pilot)

Well I guess reviewing one awful pilot every Fall Premiere season that sucks too much to have a direct quotation, even sarcastically, is going to be a thing for this blog now.

What is it? Single-cam 44-minute/1 hour "adult" action drama (yeah when I have to use quotes here you know it's good)
Where did it air? CBS which has the market for these homogeneous, thin-plot thick-Micheal Bay-esque explosion action dramas pretty much locked up since the 90s. 
Who stars in it? Quite frankly a bunch of people I really don't care about, including Mr. I Was On Original CSI Every Season Guy. Given the quality of what I saw I don't think a lot of people much care either. The person doing the review of this show for AV Club didn't care about them why should I?
Why are we reviewing this? That's actually a very good question, I think the best answer I can provide is to simply ask you to read the opening quotation above.

I've explained how when I was going through cancer and a very emotional breakup at the same time, Disney Channel ended up providing a lot of television comfort food. A little while earlier, when I was just starting to earn my aerospace degree (yeah I have one of those, I think I explained that too) and when I needless to say had a lot fewer health and relationship issues, ancient reruns of 80s action shows on TVLand nonetheless provided the same level of TV comfort food. In an age when my parents were too cheap to spring for DVR services, I could count on coming home from class juuuust in time to catch a full hour of classic MacGuyver or A-Team. There's something of a lost art when it comes to 80s action shows - the technology and narrative techniques available back then, even with the advances 80s television had made compared to just the decade prior, were nowhere near as refined as they are today, but at the same time I think it forced the showrunners to adapt and do with the best they had. In many cases they knew they didn't have the budget to come up with anything not-cheesy, so they decided, why not just go full-tilt and make something so cheesy it's at least enjoyable if not all the way to instant classic-dom? You achieve this by making the show now only fun, but in somewhat memorable. A-Team did this entirely through its cast - not only the real-life character that is Mr. T, but in George Peppard's Colonel Hannibal Smith; Dirk Benedict's (then fresh off Battlestar Galactica)'s Faceman, master of disguises; and Dwight Schultz's "Mad Dog" Murdoch, the ace pilot (who would later go on to have a recurring role on not one by two 90s Star Trek series). And yes, they had a really cool van too. MacGuyver only had one guy - MacGuyver, of course (he also had a handler, played by the very much physically-unfit Dana Elcar who passed away a decade ago due to cancer, of which in this series that role has essentially been split into Mr. I'm From CSI-Guy and Sandrine Holt who you can read a little bit more about in the Episode MVP section also review spoiler alert), so you couldn't have a whole cast of memorable characters, but you can make what this guy does memorable thanks to his ability to improvise anything out of anything. All you need is a paper clip and some duck tape, and you have meme-fodder for whole decades to come, well before the whole concept of internet memes was even physically possible to invent.

This type of narrative seems to have died nearly completely somewhere by the late 90s as action dramas shifted to being more gritty and serious - or at least faux-gritty and serious as it was really the exact same type of show, explosions and face-punching and all, just minus the deliberately goofy parts. The goofiness that 80s shows do so well seems to be a completely lost art by now. 

Yeah, maybe it's a lost art for a reason.

This new MacGuyver is just barely good enough to not be called "completely awful." Let's address the biggest issue first - it's simply not nearly as fun as the original series. In the original series, you got the sense that Mac was actually on an adventure, the type of classic adventure action Disney Channel and Nick shows and elementary and middle school books try to plot around, only (hopefully) not have to feel embarrassed enjoying them as an adult. There was a real sense of urgency Mac had to everything he did, usually involving his own life, but that's one of the things that makes adventures, well, adventurous.. You know that thing where in some tween shows they have the girl who wants to break gender barriers by going on some adventure that's too dangerous for anyone, let alone "her," to go on, but she goes on it anyway? Yeah, that's exactly the type of adventure and sense I'm talking about. That's exactly the type of adventure and sense a show of this ilk and genre needs to pull it off.

Yeah, this new Mac doesn't pull it off. There's all the sense and urgency of when Mr. I Was On CSI-Guy actually was on CSI which, for this type of show, is pretty much none.All the high stakes, all the sense of possibility of failure, is delivered pretty much entirely through dialogue and that "telling, not showing" thing people warn creatives about. In fact, for a show that almost needs the be entirely about action, there isn't a lot of it, period.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that original-flavor Mac was pretty much a one-guy team? Did you catch the hints about how this new Mac actually has a team now? He now has not one but two handlers, plus a hacker chick to help him out. Actually he has two hacker chicks, one who happens to be his girlfriend who he's boinging (more on that below) and when she turns on Mac and becomes the series' main villain (spoiler alert) he gets an upgrade in the form of, well, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in Miller Ultra-Lite flavor. Speaking of Miller Ultra-Lite, this pretty much dilutes the flavor completely here - much of the appeal and urgency from the original flavor came from seeing how Mac's going to get himself out of this one, but with a whole team backing him up that sucks out a lot of the urgency right then and there. He's got up to potentially two people available at all times that can help him simply muscle his way out of a situation, and he's got someone on call 24/7 to help him cyber-hack his way out as opposed to physically hacking his way out (as Mac himself says to Girl With Full Dragon Tattoo, Half the Calories, "I hack everything else.") If CBS's own Scorpion is the show with a whole team of MacGuyvers, then this actual MacGuyver reboot is just Scorpion but using the actual MacGuyver name slapped on it. 

Of course a huge chunk of original flavor Mac's action was through MacGuyver MacGuyver-ing stuff (BTW that's a real actual word now, look it up) out of any dire situation. The MacGuyvering in this first episode is...pretty damn lame. He blows dust to get fingerprints, which is what Sidney on Alias does for breakfast. He uses a serving platter as a bullet-proof shield and then as a melee/throwing weapon, which is what Jason Borne does for warm-up exercises. There's nothing clever here. There's no real MacGuyvering to speak of. I don't remember him actually using anything to make something explode - the closest we get to that here is in the credit sequence. The most "MacGuyver-y" thing he does is yank a bunch of wires on a plane while he's hanging from it to make it come back to the airport, and then he yanks a bunch of wires to unsuccessfully defuse a bomb. If that's "MacGuyvering" then that's the most generic form of MacGuyvering possible. I'm pretty sure multiple episodes of CSI have done something similar. Real MacGuyvering is making stuff out of other stuff, not pretending you're Jason Borne for television. 

The show does a lame attempt with Mac's narration to point out and "enhance" the MacGuyvering effect, further supplemented and enhanced by what I'm going to call a "viewer HUD" effect where objects on the actual screen are highlighted and captioned mainly to visually make up for what's just not there in the narrative. It's kind of lazy, and it shows here. Not only that but it's not even necessary - it's just telling what the show is already showing, and at a certain point it's just insulting to the intelligence.

Oh, and the plot. Yeah, original-flavor Mac wasn't exactly known for plot, but just like when say Lab Rats Elite Force or KC Undercover try for a complex plot, it just ends up falling on its face, and that's exactly what happens here. The big plot twist of the episode is predictable literally during the first commercial break, right after the credits sequence. Yeah I might as well spoil it: Mac works for a government agency, he's boinging the hot blonde woman who's doing the Ernie Cooper thing in the van, mission goes south, bio-weapon goes missing and it turns out hot blonde woman gets killed except she didn't get killed and she's behind it all along, at the end of the episode she escapes custody and Mac's former girlfriend is now the big nemesis of the whole series. If that sounds lame, then good because I accurately conveyed exactly what is was then. The remainder 34 minutes of commercial-less run-time is spent just trying to track her down and yeah it's pretty boring. Then there's the bomb and an explosion and it's not very impressive in the least. 

Mac should've stayed in the 80s where he belongs.

Episode Grade: D. More generous than Minority Report because it's legitimately better than Minority Report, but still not nearly good enough to come back to. If television was in such a bad state that this becomes one of the best things to watch, then I'll watch it, but otherwise, there's too many good stuff on TV to watch, thankfully. Yes, even including on Disney Channel (Lab Rats or KC Undercover is basically better at it, while being a multi-cam kidcom no less). With stuff like MiB 23 (yes this is a real thing - at least maybe) it's easy to write off creativity in Hollywood as being dead, and rebooting a show that lived and died in the 80s certainly helps cement that sentiment, but with premieres like ABC's Designated Survivor and Notorious, and NBC's This Is Us (which I guess is about Us...?) it shows that creativity is hardly dead in Hollywood, and neither are ultra-cynical, ultra-lazy straight-line attempts to just grab attention.
Episode MVP: Yeah...very honestly, the acting here is just...serviceable and bland all across the board to the point where it'd be a disservice to start handing out awards for actual talent. So I'm going to pull a very controversial, pig-headed, chauvinistic and misogynist move here and just give the MVP award to Sandrine Holt here for just being who I think is the hottest actress in this episode. 

Extra Thoughts

 - and now to straight off make myself look like a massive hypocrite, I found the whole way they introduce blonde computer chick as Mac's girlfriend highly distasteful. How do they do it? By showing Mac boinging her right on top of her computer equipment (with the line she's really good on computers no less -_-). The next material character scene with her, Mac handcuffs her to exercise equipment, shows her how to pick the handcuffs, and then she says to leave them on.

Oh God This Is So Bad.

Yeah, there's introducing the fact that two characters have a sexual relationship, and then there's just screaming and begging for people to watch the show and thinking your sexual humor is far more clever than it actually is. 

 - I'm coming in several months after the fact now just to bump the grade up from a D- to...a flat-D. Doesn't really change anything though, but after having my DVR's auto-record feature drown me in Lifetime Original Drama Movies and a new round of midseason crap I've relearned what really horrible television is.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Liv and Maddie Reviewed: Sorta-Sister-A-Rooney (S4E1)


What is it? Half-hour multi-cam sitcom. Also, it's just Liv and Maddie, but with "Cali-style." No, seriously, that's part of the actual show title now.
Where did it air? Disney Channel, where it's always aired, before Cali-style was cool.
Who Stars in it? The old cast - Dove Cameron who is in like a billion other things on Disney Channel and elsewhere now, Joey Bragg who is...Joey Bragg, Tenzig Norgay Trainor, Kali Rocha - but minus Benjamin King and now with Lauren Lindsey Donsiz (see below). Oh, and I should mention this particular episode guest stars Chloe East (her biggest role so far is being the lead in Jessica Darling's It List, a straight-to-digital-provider movie based on a series of middle-school novels in turn based on a series of young adult novels that eventually evolved into a not-so-good One-Woman Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants wannabee, and yes I've read all those books because of course I did, because the movie is produced by Debby Ryan. Produced. Debby doesn't even actually appear in it at all.) because apparently she's a thing now.
Why are we reviewing this? Because it's Liv and Maddie Cali-style!

Yeah, S4 is doing the whole "gotta have a subtitle for the finale season" thing, and with that, a revamped intro with newcomer Lauren Lindsey Donsiz replacing Benjamin King in the credit sequence. Oh, and when I say newcomer I really mean it - she's gotta be, like, 9 years old or so (she played Sadie, the ultra-bossy protege of Trish in that one Austin & Ally episode, her very first credited acting role on IMDb in fact, and she's played the 6th-grade version of Landry Bender/Cyd on Best Friends Whenever whenever that role is called for. Oddly enough she actually has dark hair to match Landry on BFW so even though I instantly recognized her from A&A it took going to IMDb to figure out she's on that show too). 

Anyway, and no offense Girl Meets World fans out there, but it's nice to be able to return to and review a show I can actually stomach watching. And given that it's Fall Premiere Season I can definitely stand to watch something good for a change - although Mike's reviews of the latest episodes of GMW has given me high hopes that the show is worth returning to.

Anyway, S4 picks up from where S3 left off with Cali-a-Rooney, with Joey and Parker putting all of their creative genius together to accidentally destroy their childhood home and being forced to move in with their aunt in California, which is where Liv was going to end up if she continued Voltage anyway, so yeah, she still ended up there but now without a show, lol. And now with the whole family living with Aunt What's Her Face, we're introduced to Lauren's character Ruby (apparently named after one of the production assistants on the show - this show likes doing that BTW), Liv, Maddie, Joey and Parker's young cousin (the youngest of the bunch now, a good deal younger than even Parker now). Liv sees an opportunity to manipulate Ruby into destroying a creepy velvet painting Diggie made...of Maddie can have a reminder, but in the process she ends up putting a huge cut into the Sisters by Chance, Friends by Choice picture in front of Maddie so now she has to keep secrets for both sisters.

Meanwhile Parker's psyched about becoming the big man on a new campus (this is where that Chloe East girl comes in, BTW, as one of the students new kid Parker is trying to impress) and Joey...not so much, because at Ridgewood High he at least would've been an established senior but now he feels like he's starting at the bottom again for his senior year. Until Aunt What's her Face hypnotizes him into believing he's Falcon. Not a falcon, just Falcon, Joey's new persona (it's still an improvement over actually believing he could fool everyone into thinking he's Dwayne Johnson). Amazingly enough, he pulls it off. Parker, meanwhile, is letting all his aggression and aggro get the best of him as Chloe and all the others end up hating him as a jerk, especially after Parker wins the Laser Science Fair (yes, it's a science fair specifically for lasers) by destroying Chloe's laser (I suppose I should stop calling her Chloe but I forgot her character's name). Falcon - yes, Joey-Falcon - manages to swoop in and save the day for Parker by being all, uh, Falcon-like. So I guess the show really could show Joey turn a new leaf, that'll be interesting to watch. Maybe even exciting!

Meanwhile Ruby cracks and confesses to both Rooney twins and they make up. It's Liv and Maddie, you really shouldn't expect anything else.

But at the end of the day, as pat and very sitcom-trope-y the show gets (to the point where the show isn't even afraid to poke fun at itself over that - see, that's how you do meta-humor, Girl Meets World!), Liv and Maddie does it with a charm that endears me to the show. to the point where I don't even care what people think (oh and that was another actual plotline the show did. Pink pink pink, girls girls girls! Glitter glitter glitter, twirls twirls twirls! Together! Forever! It's Linda and Heather! Best Friends!)I'm honestly not even sure why - maybe because the show doesn't take itself seriously at all unlike a certain *other* show (yeah I'll seriously stop taking potshots at GMW now), maybe the talent of the crew just shows through, maybe it's because they have a decent-to-great cast behind it or maybe they just make it entertaining and nothing more. It's not as great as say, Rate-a-Rooney that tried to make a statement and succeeded, but it's still a great way to get into Season 4 without missing a beat.

Episode Grade: B-. It's a good episode but as far as Liv and Maddie is concerned it's pretty average, especially compared to the vast majority, if not the entirety of Season 3 and even back in Season 2. 
Episode MVP: It's too easy to give it to Dove for so effortlessly pulling off how believable the two separate roles are (needless to say she gets series MVP) but, eh, let's give it to Tenzig, really. Joey's portrayal of Falcon was juuuuuuust a little too forced to elevate it beyond stock sitcom trope temporary persona reinvention, and quite frankly I'm not really seeing the acting appeal of Chloe East beyond, well, to put it bluntly, waaaay too many creepers who need to be reminded there are real legal consequences for being too into girls who can't even drive with a learner's permit yet. Lauren Lindsey Donsiz is still in that "little girl who's entire acting range still consists of little girl" stage. and quite frankly after Googling Chloe East (and for that matter, Dog With a Blog's Francesca Capaldi) I think for the time being as a 9-year-old or whatever, maybe she should still be glad she's still somewhat obscure for the time being.

Yeah there be a lot of creepers out there. So yeah with that let's see if Mike has any thoughts about this episode. But in the meantime:

Extra Thoughts

 - yeah needless to say I'm as psyched as Parker is to finally see Linda & Heather be realized in the flesh, so to speak.

 - That actually brings up another point: I am dorky enough to not only admit to it, but be proud in doing so, that I have actually submitted a fan script to John D. Beck and Ron Hart for Liv and Maddie. I mention this because it involves the Linda & Heather show, and actually has a plot point similar to the upcoming episode. A, uh, very slight resemblance. Anyway, the A-plot was going to revolve around the return of Kathy Kan (Piper Curda, Kathy Kan-a-Rooney - incidentally also the episode that introduces Linda & Heather and the theme song I recite in the main review) and Fangs (Laura Marano, Fang-a-Rooney) enrolling as students at Ridgewood High and becoming a part of Liv's clique, and Liv helping them adjust to Ridgewood life and "taking over the school" and all that girl high school trope stuff. The B-plot would be Joey taking Parker to see the Linda & Heather actresses in-person at a meet-n-greet, with those two actresses played by Bridgit Mendler and Debby Ryan because of course I would do that - and granted, they're a bit old for what Kathy Kan-a-Rooney suggested the actresses should be but it seems like the actual episode is going that age route anyway so meh. Anyway, just as Parker and Joey are about to finally meet them after being in line for hours, Linda and Heather butting heads results in them breaking up and refusing to do the show anymore, which breaks Parker's heart and motivates him and Joey to see if they could patch things between them. Again, I'm very interested in seeing how the version of Linda & Heather from the actual show's creators play out, because it does seem pretty exciting! Also, yeah, needless to say they pretty much used exactly zero of my script idea but no hard feelings right?


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Girl Meets World Reviewed: She Don't Like Me

She doesn't like me. If you're going to call an episode something, at least have correct usage of your contractions.

For the benefit of those who don't read this blog often, I decided after "Ski Lodge" to stop doing episodic reviews of Girl Meets World. That two-parter just broke me mentally, physically, and emotionally, to the point where I realized this show no longer deserves to have every episode reviewed. However, if there's an episode that I have a lot of thoughts on, it will get a review, and last night's episode took the cake.

I'm not saying this episode was horrible, because it wasn't. I'm not saying this episode was fantastic, because it wasn't. It just did a lot of things well and a lot of things poorly, and we'll get to that. But I just want to say that ever since "Ski Lodge," the show has not gotten anywhere close to that level of awfulness. It feels like someone on the writing staff or a producer flipped a switch because the last few episodes have been pretty decent. All of a sudden, it feels like the show can be entertaining again. Then again, the next episode is "World of Terror 3," and I wouldn't watch that episode if I was paid to. Seriously, I'm not even going to waste my time being a part of the ratings and watching it. I know that episode's going to be terrible.

Anyway, Girl Meets World has tried to redeem itself after "Ski Lodge" and honestly, it's been working. But if this episode is any indication, there's still some bugs to wipe from the windshield. The story itself is very simple. Riley wants this girl to like her and become her new friend, but the girl doesn't like her. Also, she's having problems in health class because she wants to control the way the teacher is presenting the information? I don't know. The episode would still work without the health class stuff. What we have here is yet another edition of the trademarked GMW Rule of Thumb: If they have a story with potential, they will screw it up at least 65% of the time. In this case, they try telling two different stories in an attempt to fuse them together, but it doesn't work because they feel like two completely different episodes. Riley's trying to make a new friend. That should be its own story. A lot of time is spent on the health class stuff, and they try going back to the she don't like me stuff, but not enough scenes were devoted to it. So what you get is an episode that can't juggle these plots at the same time.

One of the biggest problems in the episode is Riley herself. She comes off as annoying as usual, but this time, we get to see how she can annoy the people around her. The girl she's trying to be friends with is clearly put off by her personality, and honestly, I would be too if I ever met someone like that. Riley's just an awkward kid who really needs someone to help guide her through things like this. Besides that, she seems to not grasp the lesson throughout the episode until the very end. It's a very simple lesson about not being able to control things, but it's like the lesson is repeated multiple times until they can no longer repeat it. Sometimes, the writers portray Riley as very socially inept and a little slow. This is one of those times.

And who could forget the ending? Earlier in the episode, Topanga finds out that this girl doesn't like Riley so she pretty much explicitly states that she's going to do some snooping into the girl's family's tax information to find any discrepancies. Keep in mind we never even find out the girl's name in this episode, and Topanga has no use for this information. Then at the end, we find out the girl's family is being charged for tax evasion and will most likely go to jail. You know what the reason for this is when it is reported on TV? That the girl should have liked Riley. That's Topanga's whole reasoning for doing this and they explicitly state this reason on live TV.

Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Not only does this seem needlessly petty, but it makes Topanga come off as more of a caricature than a real person. The whole point of this episode was that you can't control what people think and how life works, but in this one instance, you obviously can because Topanga just got an entire family in trouble with the IRS. At least the episode does kinda make it seem like Topanga is in the wrong, but I seriously can't imagine her doing something like this. It was a dumb ending in an episode that didn't need it.

Now with all of these problems, you think I would hate the episode, right? Actually, no. This episode succeeds by being very funny. Seriously, this is one of the funniest episodes I've seen in the entire series. It's odd because GMW isn't exactly well-known for its comedy, but almost all of the jokes hit bullseyes. The bit with the characters needing to carry each other to class, ending with Smackle dragging an unconscious Farkle, was absolutely hysterical with a great payoff. Smackle's graphic description of sex with a continuous bleep was so unexpected and almost had me on the floor from laughing too hard. The opening scene with the gym coach was fantastic, mostly because of the coach's delivery. Even the joke where Auggie says that his teacher thought the essay Riley wrote for him was the work of a fifth grader was hilarious. We may never see the show be this funny again, so to have all these great bits in one episode was a real treat and elevated this episode beyond the poorly executed story and the stupid ending.

How about that? For the first time that I can remember, this show had an episode saved by its comedy. Who would have thought? I think this show has potential to be consistently funny. When all else fails, it could really benefit from having quality humor even when the plot and the lessons aren't anything worth writing home about.

Episode Grade: B
Episode MVP: Sabrina Carpenter. It's amazing how a character who I thought was insufferable earlier in the season is now the absolute best in the cast. Maya continues to shine as she has been so lovable, so fun to watch in the last few episodes. I really hope the writers realize they have lightning in a bottle here with Maya being Riley's easygoing, fun-loving slacker sidekick. Somebody made the call to start having Maya act more like Shawn. Like, seasons 2-4 Shawn, not season 6 Shawn. Whoever made the call, God bless them.

-The girl who didn't like Riley was pretty entertaining, and kinda attractive. You know, if she wore different clothes and got touched up a little bit. Anyway, the opening scene was very realistic. Maya talking about having to fake interest in people really hits close to home. The fact of the matter is, when you're in an environment like high school, most people don't want to deal with you any more than they have to if they're not cool with you like that. So having Maya superficially greet kids, start being repulsed by further conversation, and get annoyed at the possibility of making new friends was well-done.

-I loved Maya's attempts to cheer Riley up and comfort her with singing. Seriously, without Maya to guide her, Riley probably wouldn't even know how to read.

-The best part about the carrying/dragging scene was that there was almost no dialogue. For a scene like that to work as well as it did, not having the characters talk was the best thing the writers could have done. It's like all Farkle had to do was look at Smackle and she immediately knew what he wanted. The camera cut to the wide shot of Smackle dragging Farkle to class absolutely killed me.

-Speaking of Farkle, it's really weird how he was the only one freaked out and fainting in health class. You would think he would be the only one not doing that along with Smackle. You know, because he's really big on science and should probably understand certain biological functions by now. Seriously, that's his whole shtick and they threw it out for the one joke.

-I might have been hearing things, but Topanga said something along the lines of Riley not having the power to control things. Then she immediately contradicts herself when Riley talks about the girl not liking her. I know Riley's her daughter and everything, but Topanga comes off as really creepy from that point forward. However, I loved it when Maya tried to calm her down with her singing. Seriously, where has this Maya been?

-Why would they have Cory teaching the health class when he didn't know anything? And why is Riley complaining about the gym coach being the teacher? When I was in junior high, the gym teacher also taught health. I'm just assuming it's a requirement, but Abigail Adams High doesn't remind me of any NYC public schools so......I don't know.

-This is something that has been annoying the hell out of me since "Ski Lodge," and they keep bringing it up because they think it's funny, but it's not. It wasn't funny the first time, it wasn't funny the second time, and it wasn't funny in this episode either. You probably know what I'm talking about: The Smackle/Lucas jokes. The writers really need to stop doing this. It's now past the point of irritating and just becoming straight up disturbing, to the point where Smackle is now having dreams about Lucas. I don't understand why the writers keep making this joke because it's not even funny. Smackle is constantly hitting on Lucas in front of everyone, including her own boyfriend, and no one bats an eye. If it was the other way around, and Farkle was constantly flirting with Riley or Maya, they would have killed it after one episode. Either way, they clearly forgot why this joke was so funny before so now it's just time to put it to rest.

-I'm serious, I really hate this joke. I hated it the first time they did it, and the fact that they keep using it makes me despise it with all my heart. The only way this makes sense at all is if we find out in a future episode that Smackle has a deep attraction for Lucas and ends up cheating on Farkle. If you want to go there, then go there. I would love if they went there because it just means that these jokes were planting the seeds for it. But as it stands now, we're supposed to find it hilarious that Smackle has the hots for Lucas while Farkle just sits there and says her name like a sitcom parent scolding their kid for being so gosh darn mischievous. It brings each episode to a screeching halt, and makes everyone involved look terrible. PLEASE STOP USING THIS DAMN JOKE.

-It's weird because Topanga gives a speech to Riley midway through the episode that sounds pretty genuine and heartfelt, then she goes back into creep mode at the end of the episode. I should never, ever, ever associate the word "creep" with Topanga Lawrence.

-The letting go ceremony was cool, I guess. But honestly, we all know Riley isn't going to remember anything that's happened in this episode and go back to being the same socially awkward, bubbly, dimwitted weirdo we know and sometimes love so who cares? Riley learning a lesson? Pffft, dream on.

-I have absolutely no idea why that girl was smiling so much when Riley said she liked her, even after she reminded her she didn't want to be her friend. You know what? I'm just going to call her Sally. I have no idea why Sally was smiling so much after Riley said she liked her, even after Sally reminded her she didn't want to be her friend. I don't know what Sally was so giddy about. The fact that Riley was so persistent in wanting to be liked? The fact that Riley still likes her? Why would Sally care? In real life, if I dealt with this situation, and I have, the other person would just give me one-word responses or say absolutely nothing, and that's that.

-By the way, happy Halloween because I'm not touching that "World of Terror" garbage. Also, sometime this week, I'm hoping to begin my quest to review one episode of every Nick and Disney live-action show by the end of 2016. I don't even know which show to start with. Maybe Liv & Maddie? I hear that show's actually really good, but I'll be the judge of that.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Brief History of the Young Adult Novel

This is somewhat a companion post to our 100th post/1 year anniversary special post right below, since we talk about the state of tween/teen entertainment, particularly of the live-action variety, and it's given me thought about how tween/teen entertainment has evolved not over the years but decades, well predating even the Saturday Morning Half-Hour Animated Toy Commercial phenomenon. Mike and I talked about how sometimes the best shows have a subversive or rough edge to them, and how for the most part corporate types have put the kabosh on that today in favor of what they think is the sure bet of an established formula of slapstick humor and especially cheaply-delivered puns. But before there was a Suite Life of Zack and Cody, or That's So Raven or Even Stevens, before even Dan Schneider took an unexpected career turn from nerdy, early IT specialist to actor on Head of the Class and then later Hollywood television producer big-shot, some authors started making waves with some children's books they had written and would change the literary landscape since (and more).

The entire idea of children's (not tween or teen, those are very recent phenomenons) entertainment is a pretty new idea - consider that Grimm's fairy tales, considered the ur-anthology of children's stories, is roughly about as old as the stories of who I consider to be the first true young adult novelist, Charles Dickens. Not necessarily the fairy tales themselves (indeed some of them are truly ancient by the literal definition of the term - yet others, like the modern interpretation of Snow White codified by the Grimm brothers, was practically brand-new when they compiled their collection) but the whole concept of packaging them specifically for children. If you think about that, you'll realize it's not that old at all. Yes, consider that what's considered the first English novel, Robinson Crusoe, isn't much older still (around the middle of the 18th century) but consider that while the novel might be a relatively new concept, of course the concept of written entertainment isn't, but prior to the early 19th century there wasn't much of a distinction between entertainment specifically aimed at children and adult entertainment (not that kind of adult entertainment, get your mind out of the gutter! Lame punchline, I know). Those fairy tales the Grimm brothers collected were originally meant for the benefit of adults as much, or even more than what they were for children. Beyond simple nursery lines and stuff of that ilk, there wasn't much to go on for children to intellectually entertain and pre-occupy themselves with. Nor was there much reason to - children were basically pint-sized labor to exploit, if not by Dickensian overseers and ultra-capitalists then by their own families. A family farm's only source of labor was its own family, and if you needed more farm hands, typically you had to expand the family. Fun for mom and pop in the short term, but you get the picture that there wasn't much to life other than work, work, work (and this is why I tell people the past always sucks). 

The Industrial Revolution certainly saw its share of child exploitation (that went on for decades, deep into the 20th century) but it started to reach a point, already by the turn of the 20th century, that mechanization and improvements in production efficiency meant more time was being freed up, and in the process several concepts began to rise - the whole concept of leisure time as well as public education. These concepts were hardly new (remember, Benjamin Franklin helped to establish public school systems in his native Philadelphia) nor were they exclusive for the aristocracy, but up until this point they might as well have been. What was a new concept was the government enforcing a new policy of compulsory education for all child citizens - yeah we may have groaned about it when we were forcibly marched off to watch our free time get gleefully publicly executed but whether our 9-year-old selves like it or not it was one of the most important and transformative policies in American history. It's a big reason why for both men and women entry-level jobs now consist of data entry, low-level management and even blogging instead of fence-pulling, ditch digging or military service come peace time or the hell of war for men and the family kitchen and nothing else for women. 

With this new concept of compulsory public education, there was now a need for material these children could actually read so that, you know, they could learn to read. So for the next sixty years or so most children's books were written with the goal of being suitable for school use - which meant promoting moral upstanding and reverence to authority, and all those other classic values. Needless to say subversiveness was actively discouraged.

The end result is what you're no doubt familiar with - ultra-soft stories that would easily be at home on Disney Channel in the 80s (and indeed were) or could serve as the inspiration for after-school specials (and I'm willing to bet in some cases indeed were, too). At its best, a skilled author could still turn it into literature capable of standing the test of time, as Beverly Clearly who is probably the peak of this style of children's narrative. But often times it ended up being as cheesy and as forced as the humor on Bunk'd or Game Shakers, like original Full House on Zyloft, and consequently utterly forgettable as soon as the school year was over, if not that week, or the kind of dreck children would only read because they're literally being forced to read it. 

Parallel was a very small, niche market of "dark" novels aimed at kids, but they were few and far between and for the most part just glorified Grimm ripoffs. They didn't have much in terms of foul language or overt sexualization, unless you consider young girls the age of the target demo meeting gruesome but still Disneyfied and moralized ends arousing (and, well, they kind of were meant to be - yeah it was a time of closeted sexual deviancy here). In fact, as "clean" as they would be to modern sensibilities they were pretty much treated as porn aimed at kids. We're talking deep underground for the time here, the stuff that near-literally gave birth to the phrase won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?! But, again, this stuff was about as common and mainstream as the Tijuana Bible which is to say not at all.

Beyond that, all you had were "adult books." Even books that are now considered classics for high school or middle school students to read, and books that would solidly be classified as young adult if they were published today - A Separate Peace, the entirety of Dickens' works, etc. - were marketed and sold for adults, with the full intention of adults reading them with the occasional enterprising and bright "advanced" student.

Then one day this guy named Robert Cormier wrote a book that was more or less an allegory about how he was pissed off that his son's school made his son sell stupid chocolates and stuff. It centered around personality cults and featured fist fights - stuff that was pretty heavy for kiddie fair. But because it focused on kids in high school, his publisher made the fateful decision to publish it as a young adult novel. 

And even prior to that (about seven years or so in the late 60s), this woman named S. E. Hinton published a book called The Outsiders, about a group of high school kids who felt like a bunch of...well, outsiders. And then Judy Blume was writing feminism in young adult novel form.

But that didn't necessarily stop the flood of "soft" young adult fiction, a trend which in fact hasn't stopped and continues to this day. But I do think even the most mainstream of young adult novels have ended up becoming vastly improved product thanks to the market willing to distribute darker, gritter stuff with a very sharp, hard edge to it. It's not uncommon for young adult stories to tackle subjects of loss, bitter love gone wrong, and even disease and warfare in a very earnest fashion. You only have to look at J-Law's and Shaliene Woodley's careers to see how well this is going even still. 

In fact it can even go completely the other way and, as with Family Guy, it starts to seriously lose its edge as it's adopted into the mainstream. I for one can tell you I've been sick and tired of the glut of Twilight and Hunger Games clones that still circulate the market, at least on the used book market and library circuits. Since the literature market tends to be cyclic based on genres, and it tends to be this because the people running the literature markets have a tendency to view the demos as morons, the young adult market is somewhat lost now, or at least more lost than it was in say 2013 or 2014. Between you and me, I'm hoping for both stronger realistic fiction in young adult fiction, as well as science fiction that borrows more from said realistic fiction and is less reliant on shopworn, done-to-death sci-fi tropes, especially both those that were "pioneered" during the heydey of Hunger Games only to be driven straight into the ground and those that sci-fi writers have relied on since Isaac Asimov was an unknown short story author.

In fact, the young adult book market parallels the anime market in a lot of ways. You have a lot of groundbreaking stuff that takes itself seriously, a lot of schlock that takes itself way too seriously, and a lot of mainstream stuff that is more than happy to let Fighty McNot-Goku call each of his attacks in very awkward fashion thanks to bad localization while the background blurs into monochrome but with speed streaks!

My point being, is that I think there is room for the same hard-edged approach that's popular in young adult literature and anime in the live-action tween/teen sitcom (or drama) market, it's just that, again, the corporate willingness isn't there. The closest examples I can think off the top of my head, at least as far as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon are specifically concerned, are all imported from Canada or Australia - My Babysitter's a Vampire, Backstage, even Make it Pop! and yes even The Other Kingdom and Mako Mermaids. MBAV, in fact, is somewhat often cited (including by me) as a single-cam series that successfully blends serious moments with the type of slapstick humor Disney Channel and Nick really loves (I've already reviewed the movie a year ago and you can just read that to tell how much of an MBAV fanboy I am). And again, if foreign markets are more willing to do it, I'm willing to bet someone who might get on, say, YouTube Red might be willing to try it out as well.

Other Thoughts

 - I couldn't think of a place to put it in the main body, but speaking of that hard, raw edge, the more I think about it the more I think of an increasingly obscure but big-in-the-day series called The Clique, that ran from the very early 2000s (just in time to exist in a post-9/11 world, pretty much) all the way to 2011 or so and ended up being, altogether, 24 books (not counting the graphic novel and activity books - or the made-for-DVD movie starring Bridgit Mendler and her pal Samantha Boscarino - yeah this is pretty much where they got their start - and the Nintendo DS game). The Moral Guardians-That-Be derided it for being a manual on how to be a female bully, and they weren't exactly the most well-written books ever (you can go to the TVTropes page for greater details, but there were inconsistencies and just bad writing throughout). But it still had that very hard edge for this type of thing - a very honest look at bullying, from the perspective from the bully no less, and for an entire book series, so I can respect why it became so popular when it was.

 - Fun fact: this blog was originally intended as a YA novel review blog but I kinda gave up on that after seeing that literally everyone else and their siblings do it already. So empty and unused this blog sat until Christian and Sean came along and inspired me to review other Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows instead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

100th Post/1 Year Anniversary Special: Why This Stuff Matters

Hey guys, guess what, this post marks the 100th post on this blog! And guess also what else - on this day, September 21, one year ago, in 2015, I wrote this blog's very first post! 100 posts and 1 year...didn't exactly fly by, and several times, even more than Christian and Sean at GirlMeetsWorldReviewd, I seriously contemplated if it was more worthwhile to simply quit. I very quickly discovered the folly of trying to review every single new episode on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon - at its peak time I was devoting 15 hours to a single week on this blog, which was completely unsustainable for something that I don't get paid a dime for. Then I decided to venture out and review other shows - and some jackass decided to use the opportunity to troll me by posting a link to a bunch of rabid fanboys but that's neither here nor there. And I did learn several valuable lessons in the meantime. I learned how to prioritize reviews so that we review only the shows really the most worthwhile to review (Bunk'd and Game Shakers being so awful it's not even worth watching to begin with, while other shows like Henry Danger were, while not necessarily bad, were so formulaic that reviewing each episode just got tedious on its own anyway, with School of Rock falling somewhere in-between). I also learned not to let the opinions of rabid fanboys get to me, and that pathetic trolls will just continue to be uneducated pathetic trolls that will nonetheless scare me if only because they have real voting power (we'll see how well that goes in a few weeks) nor let it dampen my desire to review more "grown-up" shows (though given most of the ones we've reviewed, it's something I'm not very tempted to do again). But most of all I was lucky enough to have Mike join this blog, and looking through and doing a rough estimate he's done about 48%-51% of the total word count on this blog (if it's towards the lower end it's only because of my tendency to go on long-winded rants) and about 50%-52% of the actual post count on this blog, which really should be enough to tell the whole story. Double-team blogging makes a huge difference and Mike absolutely is the reason why this blog still exists a year later and why we can celebrate a 100th post at the same time, or for that matter at all. So give a big round of applause for him, uh, virtually I guess.

So given that 100 posts and a 1 year anniversary is kind of inevitable, I've naturally had some time to think about what to do for a celebration post. I don't want to just run through raw statics of say the blog itself (because that's honestly just kind of lame) or through the various shows and compile what are the best seasons and who has what Episode MVP award the most like Christian and Sean do because that's something I'd rather do near the end of the calendar year, during the dead of winter, when I have nothing else to do (especially since we do many more shows that's going to be an ass-load of time spent doing that). So I think I'll go ahead and do something different, something I've been wanting to do anyway*: address why this whole kiddie-show thing is important and why it matters, and why it's important for more than just trying to virtually baby-sit attention deficited little punks or for grown-ass men who are also deviants.

When I was doing research for this (yes I actually did research for this, see the * below) I ran across a TIME article about how they do children's television in the Netherlands. It's a very different landscape over there, and if anything it actually has a closer resemblance to some YouTube channels out there (and not even necessarily YouTube Red) than it does traditional broadcast or especially cable children's TV over here. A lot of it is creator-driven and along those lines involves much greater participation from people in the actual audience demo than here, where it's pretty obvious grown-ass corporate men and women are calling all the creative shots. A lot of it ends up being education-driven too, but not necessarily in the way old fart Millennials like me are still accustomed to thinking with incredibly boring and dry programs that are trying to be virtual classroom replacements - much of it's about very practical matters or even a bit more slice-of-life (i.e. reality show-ish) than education TV advocates here in the 'States might appreciate. Come to think of it, maybe there is a bigger resemblance to U.S. children's broadcast TV than I give it credit for, at least since early this decade. If you've ever seen the stuff they show on CBS during the prime-time children's hours Saturday morning you know what I'm talking about - at least two of the programs are simply docu-reality format period (following pet doctors/specialists), two of them are interview/news snippet type of things, and there's even a completely scripted, single-camera format show like what you might find on Sprout! (The Investigators, or something like that - really clever title I know, P.S. it's about investigating mail fraud, oooOooooOOOOooohhhHHhhhhhh). This is pretty much the entirety of the broadcast children's television landscape now, a very different picture from the late 90s and even into the middle 2000s when younger-demo anime absolutely dominated Saturday morning, and before that when broadcast was flooded with domestic animation of various genres and quality Saturday and Sunday morning and weekday afternoons (you can do a Google search and read about Disney Afternoon and pretend you're in a virtual museum!) 

And then we come to the traditional children's cable juggernauts - Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network, with the former two cases being a mere shadow of their past glory. The latest episode of Girl Meets World garnered 1.4 million viewers (and perhaps garnered really is the right word for once given that number) and the latest DCOM aired so far, Adventures in Babysitting, despite being actually pretty good ended up with the lowest viewership for a DCOM in nearly a decade (second-worst since about the time Disney Channel became a basic cable network). Nickelodeon, until recently, was getting its butt thoroughly whooped by Disney Channel ever since iCarly left with 2013 and 2014 being particularly lopsided years, though lately things aren't looking so bad as Disney Channel's simply sunk to their level. Meanwhile, Cartoon Network manages to show some meaningful gains, especially in a demo Nickelodeon and Disney Channel hasn't tried to flirt with much (though they've certainly made effort to) - adults, both older Millennial and even younger X-Gen males and females. 

So what's happening? I think it boils down to two things - both Disney Channel and Nickelodeon refuse to be flexible outside of their traditional narrative/content generation of sticking to traditional, corporate-driven sitcom and show formulas, and (very much related) refusing to be flexible outside of traditional network distribution and viewership models. I'll explore that in a future post but right now I just want to talk about where the future is headed, and how it relates to why stories for young children matter.

I read a book recently, I forgot which one exactly, but it had a great quote (I don't remember if it was in the actual narrative or in the acknowledgements) about why people like telling stories from a child's perspective. It was written from the perspective of a young teenaged girl (which is why I think it might actually be in the narrative proper) about how children and teens like telling stories and being involved in stories because it makes them feel like they matter. And trust me, it can be tough to feel like you matter when you're a teen, especially given what teens put themselves through (much of it trying to feel like they matter). Extra-curricular activities, social activities, etc. I think putting these thoughts and experiences down through some means - whether through pen, canvas, video, or whatever means happens to be convenient for that teen to express through - helps teens mentally sort through this stuff and figure out what kind of path they need to go down. And of course, it helps to share these experiences with other teens so that they can be inspired to see what kind of path lays ahead of them, too.

I've partially done that on this very blog myself, although only in the context of the mission statement of this blog - I've shared my experiences dealing with cancer at a very young age for cancer (not like a St. Jude's Hospital or Shriners ad but you still get the picture) and how that got me into, of all things, Jessie, and from there the rest of Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and ultimately this blog in the first place. I've shared why of all things Jessie ended up being the specific gateway to this kiddie stuff as cancer refuge in the first place, because Jessie herself (Debby Ryan) ended up reminding me of my ex fiancee who dumped me around the same time when I first discovered I had cancer - which, come to think of it, I guess is kind of odd I find comfort in the one thing that more reminds me of the bad stuff I went through, especially since the resemblance they had to each other started becoming too real when Debby got arrested for DUI. 

But for whatever reason, this stuff matters if evidenced by nothing else through how often it comes up - through teens making videos on YouTube or putting up DeviantArt profiles and what not. And, at a certain point, by how much they used to connect and identify with these shows. Jessie had really high ratings until somewhere in Season 3 and especially in Season 4 where the show basically became Suite Life Minus Zack and Cody. Girl Meets World had success early on based on the promise of being "real," relatable and being something the demo can connect to, but I think it falters because it tried too hard, relied too much on old-fashioned narrative techniques and tropes (that, again, corporate types would make bigger assumptions on than actual kids) and ultimately didn't feel genuine enough and too cynically "corporate." Wizards of Waverly Place (which when I watch it now is actually kind of awful in places but that doesn't make Alex any less relatable), the Suite Life series, That's So Raven and Even Stevens are long gone. I think the only shows that really relates and resonates is Liv and Maddie and maybe Girl Meets World if nostalgists keep telling themselves that (sorry Christian and Sean) and both of those shows are absolutely on their last legs (I wouldn't be surprised if Girl Meets World is renewed for a fourth season - but at this point I'd be less surprised if they just call it a run and be done with it come February '17 apparently). Maybe maybe Best Friends Whenever though I think that show mostly survives on humor if it's even surviving at all. K.C. Undercover absolutely survives on Zendaya's star power (it's really strong star power) and a fantastic cast build around her but the plotlines by themselves actually really suck. Other than The Thundermans, Nickelodeon seems quick to cancel every show that comes by with even a modicum of charm (though I'll take this back if School of Rock also fails to survive into its sophomore season) and keep awful crap like Game Shakers (though it also seems to be trying out dirt-cheap docu-reality shows, especially Chrashletes of which the biggest [practically only real] expense is seeing how much it'll take Gronk to actually host a Nickelodeon show).

I absolutely believe that, eventually at least, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon will cease to exist in their current forms. Nickelodeon might evolve to become an alternative-outlet provider, but given the Disney corporate structure and how they've already expanded into a few potential alternative-distribution outlets as it is (plus "Channel" is becoming increasingly an anachronism) I expect Disney Channel to eventually simply fold. Maybe they'll just consolidate everything into an uber-Disney app and live-action shows (if they even still do them at that point) won't necessarily be so dramatically segregated from, say, being able to watch Pixar movies through said app.

I also read the article written by none other than Mara Wilson herself about what it's like to be a child actor (spoiler alert: it sucks) and her conclusion that one day we'd go so far as to completely replace child actors with CGI. I don't quite agree with her assessment - CGI is still a bit buggy when it comes to completely replicating and replacing a person out of Uncanny Valley territory - but I also at least partially disagree with the sentiment that being a child actor is always a bad thing (though the Debby DUI situation has me thinking about siding more closely with Mara). But as I said earlier, children and teens will find ways to express themselves, and acting very much is a part of that.

...but I do think in the future, the very near future in fact, child actors will increasingly be their own agents, their own producers, directors, and content creators as they more and more realize their dreams single-handedly through outlets like YouTube, maybe even YouTube Red. Having teens become YouTube Red partners, having them become cultural icons on their own ala people from PewDiePie to Austin Mahone and Justin Bieber, and having them be cable of producing scripted content (especially if a few enterprising ones try the single-cam approach - and some will) especially could be a killing blow against Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. It's something I have great hope for, because while user-created content is nice and it's steadily evolving, having a polished product is nice for kids to be entertained by - and is a powerful source of inspiration when it's made by kids practically exactly like them.

Plus, it would suck if kids' entertainment just devolves into endless faux-reality entertainment or prank-based content. Those are all fine and dandy actually, but kids do need stories of actual substance to grow their narrative boundaries, for the same reason why video games and YouTube itself needs to be broken up by proper reading and schooling.

Well, I think that just about wraps it up. I'll invite Mike over to add any thoughts, he's more than deserved it. Like I opened up with this blog really is half his anyway, in more ways than one (including literal!)

Christian and Sean are well-respected here.......but yeah, shots fired. 

I want to thank you so much for the introduction and the kind words. Honestly, I really didn't think I was doing that much work on the blog until you pointed it out today. It's great how our 100th post is on the one-year anniversary of the blog's inception so we really were blessed today. I'm trying not to get emotional, but damn. Unknown, you're really going to bring me to tears. Reading all that just made me realize how grateful I am to be here, getting the opportunity to write and people can actually read and respond to it. I guess I'll share my own story of how I ended up here.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. My allegiance to either network swayed at times. 2007-2009 was definitely when Disney dominated due to High School Musical, Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, Demi, and Selena. Yeah, those were good times. But they all walked out at some point and Nickelodeon really had the market cornered with iCarly, Victorious, and Big Time Rush. It's hard to believe, but at one time, all three of these shows were good at the same time. I'm not joking. Then Big Time Rush became the only show left with quality, and it ended.......with an actual series finale. I'll never forgive Nick for treating Victorious like it did.

So yeah, eventually, both Nickelodeon and Disney Channel went through a downward spiral. There was a time where I could tune into both networks and watch multiple shows apiece. Those days are long gone. I still want to review one episode from each live-action show out, but I haven't started yet. I still have time, but someone remind me on New Year's Eve Eve (for you slow people out there, December 30) to get to it if I haven't already. 

At this point, neither network has anything in the same realm as the shows I watched growing up. I know I sound like an old head looking at it through rose-colored glasses, and 48% of my frustration comes from that, but the other 52% comes from the fact that my generation's shows were simply better. When I was eight years old, I had Drake & Josh and Zoey 101. Ten years later, eight-year-olds have Henry Danger and Game Shakers. Do you see how far the fall from grace has been for kids live-action shows? I'm keeping animation out of this, because as far as I know, the 2010s has been a damn good decade for kids cartoons. 

When Unknown first brought up the blog, I just knew I had to jump at the opportunity before the competition beat me to it. I had no competition, but that's besides the point. I saw that Unknown shared similar sensibilities when it came to how we viewed Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, and the partnership has been like yin and yang from the beginning. I seriously can't remember a time where we disagreed with each other. Well, except for Invisible Sister, and I'll still fight him on that because that movie was surprisingly good. Anyway, this blog has been something I never truly appreciated until now, at least as much as I do in this moment. Unknown's put a lot of hard work into maintaining this blog even when it seemed unnecessary, and the fact that he's still here lets me know that I can trust him to keep things going. Rome wasn't built in a day.

There's one thing my partner said that hit me like a ton of bricks. Teenagers and children like to write their own stories because they feel like they don't have a voice, like they're just around to deal with growing pains until they become adults and settle into themselves. I never looked at it like that. I have an adult cartoon where pretty much all of the characters are kids, and that was a conscious choice because I didn't want the adults around. I just wanted my show to focus on the kids, and the characters remind me of a time when things were easier, when you didn't have to worry every single day about your future or what the news said because you were busy in your own world. Let's face it. Corporate people can't understand this. They're not focused on quality control, they just want shows that they think will be appealing. It reminds me of when Nicktoons first became a thing in 1991. Several different shows were developed during this time, and many were rejected because the company thought they were too formulaic.

Think about that. There was a time when Nickelodeon was worried about quality control, and didn't want generic programming because they knew kids deserved better. Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy may seem pretty standard 25 years later, but when they first came out, they stood for something. They stood for Nickelodeon's attempt to stand out from the pack and air something unique, something kids had never seen before. Disney Channel was like that at one point too, just wanting to give kids something relatable and soulful. In 2016, soul is dead. Not just the genre, but this way of thinking by network executives. If I want subversive animation that actually stands out from the pack and gives me something to remember years from now, I just watch American Dad or Rick & Morty. 

The only problem is, these shows are made for adults and teenagers who really want to laugh. Kids don't have an American Dad or a Rick & Morty or a classic Simpsons, do they? A Boondocks, seasons 1-3? Family Guy, seasons 1-5? South Park? The last kids show to really shake up the game like that was SpongeBob. Yeah, I said it. SpongeBob is seriously one of the best comedies I have ever watched, and the early seasons have aged like imported wine. It set out to do nothing but write interesting stories, tell clever and snappy jokes, give kids something sophisticated and silly but endearing altogether. It was just a straight comedy show.

I don't even see an early SpongeBob in 2016. When is that going to change?

Back to the main point. There really aren't that many good kids live-action shows at the end of the day. The Thundermans is good for what it is, but most people probably aren't even aware that it exists. Girl Meets World has been dripping with potential since the first episode, but at this rate, it's going to take years before it ever peaks, much less comes close to touching its predecessor. These shows can't be mentioned in the same breath as Drake & Josh and That's So Raven. Those shows were never high concept art, but they did what a lot of kids shows can't do today: Be entertaining. Seriously, is any kids live-action show right now even worthy of being compared to Drake & Josh in terms of comedy? That kind of stuff is beyond creators today, even Dan Schneider himself.

Okay, I'm going on a rant here. Unknown, you want the mic back? 

Dang, I actually like what you wrote better than what I wrote! Of course that's a big reason why I really like having you here and why I specifically wanted to make sure to thank you in the very first paragraph. Needless to say, I really do thank you for your contribution to this blog so far. Without it this would be Post #24 or something, if it'd been kept updated at all.

Oh yeah, and I want to make it clear, Christian and Sean are well-respected here. I'm sure they don't mind the slight nab at them :) At least I thought it was a light enough jab....

Yeah, we can talk about the glory days of kidcoms and the greats especially. Like Drake & Josh. I saw my very first episode of Drake & Josh in 2012 (needless to say I was a late-comer, for reasons I already partially explained here and further explained in earlier posts) but that was back when they decided to run a bunch of episodes every day in October randomly for some reason, so while I didn't see the whole series I saw a very big chunk of it (at least a majority by episode count). Even back then, I didn't think it was just one of the greatest kidcoms ever, but one of the greatest sitcoms period. I mean it. It amazes me that I can go back and watch Drake & Josh, or even iCarly and Victorious on its best of days, and then look at Henry Danger on its worst of days or Sam & Cat and Game Shakers on...pretty much any given episode and it amazes me that the same guy did all this?!?! Big Time Rush was another really good one, but excepting Thundermans I can't remember a good non-Schneider live-action show that's managed to last; Haunted Hathaways was the closest at two seasons and there was a point where that show started to almost be nothing but "let's endlessly slime poor Amber Montana (Frank now?) and make a show of that," or Bella and the Bulldogs which on average was a much better show but Brec Bassinger herself recently tweeted the show is done. As we've discussed before 100 Things to Do Before High School is the best of them all but with ultra-low ratings (even lower than Disney Channel now), no word on renewal and with Isabel Monier now having a huge part in the upcoming Transformers movie it's safe to say it's done too. Hopefully at least that show was instrumental in getting her that huge movie role get, and will help her rise to stardom. Hell even Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn has moments and I think I heard that show got Season 3, so I guess I can name that. Legendary Dudas was surprisingly good but Nick has a very poor track record for single-cam and charming shows as of late, and as I've previously stated I've come to the conclusion that School of Rock is just slightly better-smelling garbage than Game Shakers. And as much as I complain about the ending of Jessie it at least got a half-assed ending. Even How to Rock (remember that show?) got a more complete ending than that. 

Of course Drake Bell and especially Josh Peck were great actors too. I really liked Grandfathered, which I reviewed a few months back (the episode guest starring Drake Bell no less, making it a mini-reunion). Was it Drake & Josh good? Hell no. I really shouldn't even insult, say, Fraser or Newsradio by even mentioning them in the same paragraph. But it's at least as good as the single-cam sitcoms that actually manage to get renewed on ABC for example. In fact I'll eagerly go on record to call it better than the last five or so seasons of Modern Family or the last few of The Middle. And today's adult multi-cams? Yeah, forget The Big Bang Theory, you'll have to go back to that era of Fraser and Newsradio to find multi-cams really worth remembering anymore. Or at least How I Met Your Mother even though I haven't seen a full episode ever (I saw 15 seconds of the episode with the Korean Elvis and then changed it back to Girl Meets World. True story). 

It really surprises me how much creative control Nick let the actual show creators have back in the day, especially when you compare it to now. I've seen some Salute Your Shorts through The Splat and...honestly it's a bit too cynical for my tastes but I suppose that's the point. Hey Dude is a little hokey, not too far off from Saved by the Bell on a dude ranch (again I suppose it's the point) but it's my kind of hokey (fun fact: one of the writers of that show was Graham Yost...who'd later go on to do the decidedly not-kiddie Boomtown, Justified [which I've mentioned here and there] and The Americans). I love CatDog, and Ren and Stimpy was one of those shows that has lost its edge today precisely because it's been so revolutionary, everybody else just had no choice but to catch up with it. It's funny you mention American Dad! as being subversive because I think it's suffered that exact same fate even before it hit the air thanks to Family Guy - that show along with old-school Simpsons had made subversive TV so mainstream, you have to wonder is it really subversive anymore if it is mainstream? Rick and Morty isn't an aberration, it's specifically what the demo flat-out expects (I mean, the very network it's on is called [adult swim]). 

We're living in a golden age of entertainment, but again, precisely because of that entertainment can be frustrating. What used to be subversive and edgy is now referenced on a billion other TV shows, if not meta-self-referenced on those original shows now (yeah I'm looking at Family Guy again and even South Park). We demand more from our shows now, and rightly so, but not everyone's delivering. Even the insanely popular shows like TBBT are middling, average, milquetoast (there's an SAT word for you). And especially when it comes to kid's entertainment, it really does end up getting into an animation vs. live-action divide, for two related reasons: because Simpsons/Family Guy happened, and because a live-action equivalent of those shows didn't. Both of those shows used the freedom of their medium to expand far beyond what sitcoms up to that point bothered to try (there's an ancient interview out there where Seth MacFarlane pointed out the episode where the Griffin's house gets "fumigated" as a specific example, and how having a bunch of SWAT guys shoot up bugs in a house would necessitate a movie budget in live-action but it doesn't change the budget squat on an animated show) and they were just so jarring yet so good and entertaining that, like Ren and Stimpy before and like South Park, they've forced a change in how people think of animation. And because people still think of animation as largely being the domain of children (the "Animation Age Ghetto" that TVTropes talks about) well...ironically enough perhaps for that reason it forced all that innovation to trickle down to children's animation as well (that and the influence of anime in the 90s, with how in Japan animation really is treated as an alternative to live-action and not simply just something for kids). You have things like Regular Show and Steven Universe and My Little Pony. Who would've thought that My Little Pony would have Old-Fart Millennial/X-Gen appeal?

I think there are several problems with live-action shows now, at least as they exist on the network. For starters it's very hard for live-action to get that Family Guy/Simpsons watershed moment, because in order for it to really be transformative and subversive it has to be aimed at kids specifically, and few people on corporate-run television want to risk that. Up to this point and counting, whenever someone had an idea for a really subversive live-action show, even when starring kids, it just automatically got shoved into the adult demo. There's no preconception that it has to be for kids no matter what like animation. There's nothing to be subversive against, in other words.

And then there's the thing about that whole corporate mindset Mike mentioned. They don't want to rely on creativity or subversiveness, they want to rely on "proven" formula. That's not to say they didn't allow for their shows to have a bit of a slant and an edge, at least to an extent. iCarly was very edgy, especially at the beginning. iCarly very much tackled head-on the types of antagonists tweens and teens are sick and tired of all day but are very politically incorrect to acknowledge openly - teachers, authority and even corporate cynicism itself (iTake on Dingo, which was easy since it was shots at the competition, but still). Yes, Disney Channel and Nick still does it all the time but not with the relatively hard edge iCarly did. On a typical Disney Channel or Nick show today evil teachers were buttheads, but on iCarly they were outright assholes. On a typical Disney Channel or Nick show today, teachers were immovable obstacles and kids had to learn to deal with them and often with bad consequences (granted, it's a valuable lesson but meh) but on iCarly asshole teachers actually got their just desserts. Compare iHave my Principals or iGet Detention to the latest Gamer's Guide episode, The Long Weekend, and you can tell the difference between comic relief teachers (granted, Lauren Pritchard is pretty much hilarious in everything and it's Dana Friggin' Snyder) and actual asshole teachers who get their just desserts in the end. Both of those iCarly episodes were immensely satisfying. 

Victorious had a hard edge too (Jade was pretty much Hard Edge in teen girl form suitable for kidcom sensibilities). The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, That's So Raven, Wizards of Waverly Place all had a hard edge (again, Alex was walking teen girl wizard Hard Edge). Even Jessie to an extent, with some of the more "under the radar" humor it had, but it also tried to let the humor work with the plot instead of devolving into a slapstick and pun delivery device. It's interesting since we mention creative control too, since the actress who starred in the show herself supposedly put in a lot of input into the beginning. I think you can tell later on she either started to lose that input one way or another or just stopped caring - I dunno, maybe around the same time and maybe for the same reasons as she decided it was a good idea to start driving around in a brand-new $50,000 Audi and drink booze at the same time.

I think this is why in the near future the best content, including and especially live-action, will be from tweens and teens themselves. I don't think live-action will ever die, but I think i twill be the domain of creator-generators or whatever you want to call them because, while there are tweens and teens who certainly do animation routinely, live-action will always be easier and more convenient to some degree. They'll find corporate sponsors and partners through YouTube Red, or even Hulu or Netflix, or independent advertisers - or they won't, but they'll still put it up on YouTube anyway. PewDiePie, anyone? Or for that matter Angry Video Game Nerd, EgoRaptor (wow I am old) and literally every single Vine and Instagram celeb. Kids know how to be subversive - I did some teaching, I know - and they will put it into their works. It's just a question of, how well-polished is that final product going to be, and how long and who and in what form will it arrive?

And since Mike mentioned that he has an adult show starring kids, I've got a few ideas kicking around, but I don't really mention them much because my ideas come and go as they please so I don't find much of a point in going in-depth with something that has yet to have any permanence even within my own mind, and because actually I think it's bad luck to share ideas before they're seriously being worked on. But one of those ideas - more of a general concept anyway - is actually trying to goad parents into making their own children into stars, at least to a limited degree. All of the tasks necessary to make a live-action film are very useful life skills, in fact thanks to social media now moreso than ever. Whether that's acting, scriptwriting, shot composition, editing, or directing. 

Also, if you want to talk about shots fired, Steven Universe is way better than Adventure Time (at least the two episode of Steven Universe I actually bothered to watch) and I actually like new Spongebob better than old standard-def era Spongebob, and Invisible Sister is still terribad *runs*.

* Oh yeah, I forgot to explain this the first time around. That whole "we're now two blogs!" thing which, as you've gathered, is kind of obsolete now. The idea was that I was trying to launch a blog/newsite more professionally-polished and geared towards kidcom and tween/teen entertainment news and editorials, complete with more polished, journal-quality essays on the past, present and future state of tween/teen entertainment (this post you're reading had its genesis from me kicking around what was supposed to be the inaugural post/essay). I even managed to convince someone to help me with Gawker - yes, that Gawker - to help host a dedicated URL on their Kinja posting platform (to make it clear, it would have had absolutely no affiliation with Gawker beyond simply using their software, and just like with this blog I would've been paid absolutely bupkis on it). Then two things happened - the first, of course, was that Gawker got absolutely wrecked as a result of the Hulk Hogan defamation lawsuit (I really don't want to get into the particulars, you can Google it or better yet go to and read from their perspective). And the second was the simple realization that there isn't much of a market for tween and teen entertainment, especially live-action entertainment, to be critically analyzed, which means the chances of launching the aborted blog into a bigger feature with the possibility of paid advertisers was quickly approaching zero. Several blogs already critically examine animation for all ages, in part or in whole, but when you start applying the same to live-action tween/teen entertainment people are extremely dismissive at best, or they start throwing accusations (like in the comments section) that you're only doing this because you have a serious literal hard-on for and enjoy having wet dreams about Selena Gomez or Zendaya (never mind that both of those actresses are well into being legal-aged, although that still doesn't excuse being creepy about them - or accusing others of doing so). Part of that is because of that whole thing Mike and I spent this entire post talking about - there's no subversive or hard edge to this medium of tween/teen entertainment anymore, so it immediately gets dismissed. Either way, it looks like this blog will continue to be the most worthwhile avenue for me doing this thing.

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